The sins of the fathers

The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa
by Nathan Nunn, Leonard Wantchekon NBER

Abstract:

We investigate the historical origins of mistrust within Africa. Combining contemporary household survey data with historic data on slave shipments, we show that individuals whose ancestors were heavily raided during the slave trade today exhibit less trust in neighbors, relatives, and their local government. We confirm that the relationship is causal by using the historic distance from the coast of a respondent’s ancestors as an instrument for the intensity of the slave trade, while controlling for the individual’s current distance from the coast. We undertake a number of falsification tests, all of which suggest that the necessary exclusion restriction is satisfied. Exploiting variation among individuals who live in locations different from their ancestors, we show that most of the impact of the slave trade works through factors that are internal to the individual, such as cultural norms, beliefs, and values.

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3 Responses to The sins of the fathers

  1. Tel_ says:

    We investigate the historical origins of mistrust within Africa.

    The origins? I would have thought that all mistrust came from the basic observation that there are people who behave in an untrustworthy manner, but slave raids are merely one of many ways in which this manifests (not to be confused with the banking industry which is an entirely different manifestation). I also understand that it was also common for tribes to raid each other and sell the captives into slavery.

    We confirm that the relationship is causal by using the historic distance from the coast of a respondents ancestors as an instrument for the intensity of the slave trade, while controlling for the individuals current distance from the coast.

    Besides the basic problem that the truly paranoid will be clever enough to hide their distrust, there’s an even deeper problem that statistics can never prove a causal relationship. In this particular situation, Darwin’s theory would at least explain the observation (not the same as proof).

  2. Tel_ says:

    Dang blockquotes :-(

  3. sounds like a very imprecise and dodgy instrument to me. Slave raids were not uniform along the coast, and there was a difference between the Western powers shopping for slaves and the Arabs, who were at it for much longer. Some coastal communities actively participated (after all, if you’re a slave trader, its easier to let the locals do the hard bit than venture yourself into malaria-infested hostile territory). This instrument is thus riddled with measurement error. Makes a good story and might even be well-published, but no one reasonable should buy it.

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